(Photo: Irene Bom)
To draw this month’s theme of “work” to a close, a post reflecting on work’s counterpoint: the Sabbath.
Built into the rhythm of the universe is “Sabbath rest”, a holy rest that we are invited to participate in on a weekly basis.
The primary source for this blog post is Barbara Brown Taylor’s chapter on Sabbath – “The Practice of Saying No” – from her book, An Altar in the World.
May these reflections awaken in us all a fresh appreciation and hunger for “Sabbath rest” as a way of life.
The invitation to “Sabbath rest” has two formulations in the Bible, one linked to creation and the other to the exodus out of Egypt.
“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11)
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15)
The two candles that observant Jews light at the start of their weekly Shabbat meal represent these two “therefores” – rest and freedom.
Lighting the two candles sets the tone for the rest of the day: “made in God’s image you too shall rest” and “made in God’s image you too are free”. (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, p. 131)
A Sabbath vision
After exploring the benefits and challenges of setting aside one whole day a week when “More God is the only thing on my list” (ibid, p. 126), Barbara Brown Taylor writes,
“… I think it is good to have a Sabbath vision, even if it seems impossible to you right now. Here is mine, which you are free to borrow while you are envisioning your own.
At least one day in every seven, pull off the road and park the car in the garage. Close the door to the toolshed and turn off the computer. Stay home not because you are sick but because you are well. Talk someone you love into being well with you. Take a nap, a walk, an hour for lunch. Test the promise that you are worth more than what you can produce – that even if you spent one whole day being good for nothing you would still be precious in God’s sight – and when you get anxious because you are convinced that this is not so, remember that your own conviction is not required. This is a commandment. Your worth has already been established, even when you are not working. The purpose of the commandment is to woo you to the same truth.” (ibid, p. 138-9)
To close, a prayer – quoted by Barbara Brown Taylor in her book – that captures some of the gift and the tension that is Sabbath, celebrated sunset to sunset on a weekly basis.
A prayer: Welcoming Sabbath
Our noisy day has now descended with the sun beyond our sight.
In the silence of our praying place we close the door upon the hectic joys and fears, the accomplishments and anguish of the week we left behind.
What was but moments ago the substance of our life has become memory; what we did must now be woven into what we are.
On this day we shall not do, but be.
We are to walk the path of our humanity, no longer ride unseeing through a world we do not touch and only vaguely sense.
No longer can we tear the world apart to make our fire.
On this day heat and warmth and light must come from deep within us.
from Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayer Book (Weekends, Sabbaths, and Festivals), ed. Chaim Stern, p. 245